To say my grandfather was a people person wouldn’t be nearly sufficient enough. He was a people freak. He was one of the few people I knew who could turn a 10-minute Walmart run into a 2-hour event. Being a restless young boy (around 5), there were times when this was irritating—especially when his talking didn’t fit into my agenda of “fun” things to do. I didn’t know back then just how valuable watching, listening, and participating in these dialogues would become later in life. Before we took off to wherever we were going Grandpa would say, “Now honey, if I introduce you to somebody, I want you to shake their hand, look them in the eye, and tell them your name and that you’re glad to meet them.” I did what he asked and at an early age was able to interact with adults to such a degree it impressed them.
Fast-forward 25 years: most kids are “two-thumbing” their way through life on mobile devices and video games, totally disconnected from human interaction and, in many cases, reality. For many, the digital world has actually become reality. Sure, life is changing more rapidly than ever before but that’s not an excuse to omit teaching soft skills. It is our job as parents to educate our kids about how to appropriately interact with others. Sadly, most parents have gotten out of the practice of teaching this vital skillset, which is detrimental to our youth—the future leaders of the world. We must lead by example and talk to our kids about the importance of building relationships and effectively communicating. Our kids’ success in relationships, careers, and overall health and happiness depend on their ability to interact and connect with others.
A major facet of successful relationships is knowing how to set healthy boundaries derived from morals, integrity, and character. A person without boundaries is a total puppet. What is your child going to do as an impressionable college freshman when he or she is offered hard drugs by some bad actors, of which there are many, with even worse intentions? I don’t think most parents would want their child to be spineless, going along to get along so they won’t have to endure confrontation—God forbid… Your child WILL, at some point, be faced with uncomfortable situations when it will be wholly appropriate for them to express dissent. That’s simply part of being true to oneself. Another big one is marriage.
Take a look at the divorce rate, a number I sadly contributed to. One of the reasons the divorce rate is so high is because parents don’t teach their kids how to have healthy friendships first. There is no possible way to have a happy marriage without the ability to first develop deep friendships based on mutual trust, respect, and reciprocity. My difficulties as a teen are well documented and allow insight as to why my marriage was a train wreck. In addition to successful relationships, effective communication will be essential in your son or daughter’s career.
One of the things that surprised me most about working as a health I.T. consultant after college was how pathetically sad and weak so many of my peers were. Countless times I watched team members on equal footing within the company shove extra tasks onto the laps of their cohort, delegating THEIR work to others so they could be lazy. Not once, did anyone stand up for themselves. But after the delegator left the room, whomever received the extra work immediately started complaining about it, threatening to go straight to management. How ineffective and weak is that?! More importantly, being able to juggle the free flow of ideas with teammates while having healthy, constructive disagreements is critical in accomplishing tasks and achieving goals. Often a “bad” idea will contain good elements and spark another more viable solution within someone else. Imagine taking it personally whenever your idea was rejected. You likely wouldn’t have a job for very long.
Our interactions with people, to a large degree, dictate our health and quality of life. Positive interactions and the ability to communicate are keys to forming long-lasting friendships. As parents, we want our children to have the proper tools to develop a social support system from which to develop interpersonal relationships. Deep, interpersonal friendships are vastly instrumental in combatting loneliness and depression. Further, according to a commonly referenced Harvard Study it is our relationships that make life meaningful and fulfilling and contribute to healthy aging. If you want a firsthand account of the damage prolonged loneliness does, check out my prior blog.
What You Can Do:
Demonstrate in your own interactions (in front of your kids) how to behave around people and build solid friendships. Talk to your kids about staying true to themselves and tell them it’s perfectly okay to express opposition when something runs counter to their values. Your child’s opinion is just as valuable as the next person’s. When you observe toxic behavior in someone, point it out to your kids and explain why it was toxic and what they could have done differently. You HAVE to set the example. If you don’t, someone else will and chances are you won’t like the outcome. Lastly (very important), tell your kids it’s perfectly fine to be skeptical of an adult. The older I get the more I see how clueless some of society’s “leaders” and “role models” are. There is an overabundance of stupid adults I certainly don’t want my daughter to learn from. Parents, you have more power than you think. Put it to good use and teach you kids how to communicate and have healthy relationships. They deserve the best from us.